I’m doing terribly at keeping up with my reviews this year, so I’m going to do a review dump.
Streets of Laredo by Larry McMurtry (4.5/5)
Lonesome Dove was a revelatory experience for me. It was that rare experience that I knew to appreciate while I was reading it. Rather than devouring the book and then mourning it’s end, I was able to savor the novel and drag it out a little bit.
I was still a little skeptical about reading the follow-up, Streets of Laredo. Lonesome Dove was such a perfect novel, I couldn’t imagine it even needing a sequel, let alone that book living up to it’s predecessor. And, as far as it goes, I don’t think Streets does live up to Lonesome. I don’t think that’s an indictment of it, either. That’s a really high bar to clear.
A lot has happened between the end of Lonesome Dove and the beginning of Streets of Laredo. Lorena has left Clara and moved back to Texas to marry Pea Eye. They have several children. Newt, Call’s son, is dead after falling off the Hell Bitch. July Johnson is also dead, and Clara now lives alone. The frontier is all but gone, now, and Call is a gun-for-hire. He gets hired by a man from New Jersey, Ned Brookshire, to stop Joey Garza – a train robber from Mexico. Nothing has turned out like anyone expected – and in that way, this is a poignant follow-up to Lonesome Dove, which was always intended to be a bit of a send-up to the Western genre. A lot of people misunderstood that at the time, and I think McMurtry wanted to make sure that he got his point across.
Everyone has grown and changed between these two books – except Woodrow Call. But this is his book, in many ways. He has finally come – too late – to accept that Newt was his son, and he regrets not doing that earlier. Much of the beginning of the book is Pea Eye trying to come to terms with going on this last mission with Call. He’s been wanting to retire for years, but feels like he can’t say no to the Captain, despite how deeply Lorena and their children need him. Eventually, Lorena is the one who pushes Pea into joining Call, to save herself from watching him mope around the house if nothing else. Lorena has become a pretty strong woman in the years since her abduction and the death of Augustus McCrae.
More than anything, Woodrow has gotten old. His body doesn’t respond like he expects it to, and he finds himself to be incapable of doing the things he knows needs to get done. His hands swell from arthritis, and he overlooks things that he wouldn’t have in his younger days. Call is too old and feeble to be the hero of Streets of Laredo. He’s too much a relic of the past. The hero, here, is Lorena. She is the strong one. She gets things done.
Call is a killer for hire, with bad eyes, slow wits, and a hand swollen and arthritic. Pea Eye isn’t a leader, and doesn’t want to be anywhere but at home with his family. Ned Brookshire is scared of everything and barely knows how to hold a gun. Lorena is the one who charges off into the unknown and actually accomplishes the impossible: saving her husband and bringing him back.
She’s come a long way since being a bored prostitute in Lonesome Dove who has her world shattered by a gang of outlaws. And that her journey is entirely believable and earned is a mark to how skilled of a writer McMurtry was.
The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien (5/5)
In many ways, this is where it all started for me…26 years ago.
Good lord, I’m getting old.
Anyway. I read this book in middle school. I wasn’t a big reader at the time. I would occasionally steal my sister’s Dean Koontz or Michael Crichton books, but books weren’t something I always had at the ready. Then I read this. In truth – I devoured it. I was pulled in from the first sentence, and my imagination wouldn’t be released until I finished The Lord of the Rings and all its appendices. From that moment, I needed to relive the experience of falling so completely into a fantastical world.
Through high school, and college, and even adulthood – I’ve never quite fallen so hard as I did for Middle Earth. This isn’t the best book ever written – but it’s magic ensnared me as completely as any book possibly could. And, like any first love, it’s always held a place in my heart.
And I’ve never re-read this book. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings since falling into that fugue state as a teenager, but The Hobbit was a bit out of reach because it felt too childish. Well, friends, have I got news for you: Andy Serkis has done the audiobooks for this series (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and, most recently, The Silmarillion). And he does a superb job. Not does it not feel like a book for children, but Serkis revels in the telling. He chews scenery in the most delightful way. He does lots of voices, and sings all the songs, and really seems to relish being able to breath life into this world again.
His voices are a lot like the actors who starred with him in the movies. He, of course, sounds like Gollum. His Gandalf sounds like Ian McKellen. His Thorin sounds like Richard Armitage. You get the point. I didn’t mind. I thought it was delightful. There’s a fan edit of The Hobbit movies that is utterly delightful, and far preferable to the actual trilogy. I highly recommend it to all Lord of the Rings fans. After having watched this recut and trimmed down version, I think The Hobbit is pretty much on par, as a movie, with The Lord of the Rings.
I probably give the book a 4, but with Serkis reading it, I’ll bump it up to a full 5 out of 5 stars.